A glimmer of hope: Parliamentary action on child refugees

Child refugee in camp in Greece
A young boy drinks from his bottle in a refugee camp in Greece.

I started this week feeling pretty frustrated. Last week, we watched Europe close its borders to refugees – in response, leaders agreed a deal that puts border security above saving lives. All the while we saw images of newborn babies being washed in puddles, children running from teargas and grown men weeping at their children’s feet.

But in this frustration, there is a small glimmer of hope. Last night, the House of Lords voted by a majority of over 100 to support an amendment to the Immigration Bill that could transform the lives of thousands of children who are currently alone in Europe.

The amendment was tabled by Lord Dubs – himself rescued from the terrors of war via the Kindertransport, which relocated 10,000 lone children from Nazi Germany. As the world faces the biggest movement of people since then, he is calling on the UK Government to follow its proud tradition of showing humanity in the face of horror: by putting into legislation our call to relocate 3,000 unaccompanied children who are currently in Europe.

Child refugee from Syria
Ahmed* 14, from Syria, watches a ferry carrying refugees. He is travelling alone to Austria where his aunt is waiting for him.

How did it happen?

We’ve has been calling on the UK Government to take action on unaccompanied children since June last year. We’ve seen a swell of cross-party support as a result of our lobbying, public campaigning and media work.

From Harriet Harman challenging the Prime Minister to accept our 3,000 call at PMQs in September, to the leader of the Liberal Democrats making it his personal crusade. As cross-party support grew, we saw a steady flow of parliamentary questions and challenges to ministers on the topic in the weeks and months that followed. At the turn of this year, the International Development Committee, an influential cross-party group of MPs that interrogates the Government’s response to crisis the world over, endorsed our call as well.

Following this political and public pressure, the government made a welcome announcement at the end of January. This set out significant commitments to do the following: improve support for children in Greece and Italy; speed up family reunification for children in Europe; and resettle children from conflict zones located in the Middle East and North Africa. A huge win for thousands of vulnerable children. But they did not agree to relocate unaccompanied children from Europe.

To keep raising awareness of these particularly vulnerable child refugees, Lord Dubs tabled his amendment in January – and it received cross-party support. As the amendment went through the House of Lords yesterday, Labour’s Yvette Cooper and the Conservative’s Heidi Allen, long-term advocates for the plight of unaccompanied children in Europe, visited Calais to amplify the message.

Refugees in Greece
Refugees walk through the rain in Greece.

What next?

This amendment will be considered by the Governments in the House of Commons. We know the Prime Minister doesn’t support this specific amendment, but raising this debate to the highest levels in parliament means that further solutions must be explored.

In spite of the announcement in January, it’s important that the message continues to be sounded loud and clear – just because children have reached Europe, it doesn’t mean they are safe, as shown by the 10,000 children who went missing in 2015.

We will continue to advocate for these vulnerable children and help parliamentarians like Lord Dubs ensure that children have a voice within our Government.

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  • Sandra Stevenson

    I hang my head in shame at the delays in finding these children homes. What kind of society have we become, demonising helpless people fleeing violence. Demonising people of a certain faith. Have we forgotten what happened in Germany under Hitler. Perhaps there is just no hope for humanity.